Having played Pokémon since I could use a D-pad (LEAF GREEN and FIRE RED anyone?) I was hugely anticipating the series’ most recent release; Pokémon SUN AND MOON marking the series 20th anniversary.
I pre-ordered the game earlier this year, (selecting MOON which proved to be one of the most stupidly hard and least impactful decisions of 2016) waited with bated breath and then soared my way through the campaign mode in between general end-of-year business and sessions of writing. Now, coming out of the main campaign, about to hit post game, I thought I’d speak a little about my thoughts on this game, its strengths and how I anticipate the Pokémon handheld series going forward.
I’m a pretty big critic of nostalgia, being—probably a little harsher than I should—on our latest obsession with things bygone, with creators feeding on this desire for the past (see: STRANGER THINGS). Yet, with SUN AND MOON, while the game does appeal to our nostalgia; it also harnesses enough new elements, experiences and content to feel familiar enough but also decidedly fresh.
I fell off the main Pokémon series a little after the fifth generation (the mystery dungeon fever stealing my interest with POKEMON RED AND BLUE RESCUE TEAM, POKEMON EXPLORERS OF TIME AND SPACE and POKEMON SUPER MYSTER DUNGEON which, far more successfully fed my interest in narrative focused games). I mean, after twenty years of basically the same narrative formula and objectives it was hard to stay truly invested in the Pokémon series, especially when I knew exactly how things were going to turn out after a little early-level grinding.
SUN AND MOON though, has taken a little innovation with Pokémon’s standard game formula. Dropping us Trainers into the Hawaiian/Polynesian inspired Alola region, taking away our 8 Pokémon gyms and our HM’s while giving us Island Trials, Pokémon helpers called to us with the Poke Pager, and the adorable opportunity to not only interact with our beloved Pokémon NINTENDO DOGS style, but also groom and heal them after battle of certain status conditions.
These new features in particular are what have rejuvenated the franchise. Getting rid of the tedious need for particular HM knowing Pokémon in your party to advance through certain environments, getting rid of the repetitive mini games and Poké-Amie to give us genuinely cute interactions with our Pokémon. And (particularly for gamers like me who struggled after the fifth gen remembering which new types were strong/weak against which other types) giving Pokémon moves the value of learned experience by labeling moves which are effective/ineffective against other Pokémon species you have battled before.
For the most part SUN AND MOON are taking the Pokémon series in a fresh direction, setting out Alola a bit like the Galapagos Islands and Hawaii bringing us new variations of other region’s Pokémon (gorgeous white and Ice type’s Sandshrew and Vulpix, ghost and fire type Marowak and Exeggutor reminiscent of palm trees, something I never knew I needed until this game). I was so attracted to the idea of Alolan forms; changes in appearance and type for some of our first Gen Pokémon in this new region (Dugtrio though looks freaking ridiculous, along with a couple of others) and though there is a hefty amount of Pokémon missing from the game (meaning you have to transfer them) the region itself still has a good mix of old and new, all of them well dispersed in terms of type and availability.
I found SUN AND MOON a huge step up from a graphics standpoint (have I mentioned how much I love interacting with my level 63 Rowlet in Pokémon Refresh?) a good level of creativity has been maintained in the new Pokémon designs. With the game set in Alola’s tropical region, with beaches, jungles and volcanoes, this is undoubtedly the best looking Pokémon game we’ve had in years. The aesthetic of the Z-moves in battle is also pretty cool, but as a stand in for Mega-Evolutions and the like—I use them far less frequently.
The narrative gameplay has been a big draw for me, (though a little slow to get into to) the lore of Pokémon has only deepened with SUN AND MOON. In particular, the sprawling cast of character’s, the deepening of narrative tension and direction (note: this is a kid’s game, though not surprising/revolutionary, it is still a great story to be enveloped in) puts this installment a step above the rest, balancing it out for both veteran trainers and new gamers. Clearly Pokémon SUN AND MOON is the beginning of a new Pokémon era, ironing out some great ideas from previous games and branching out with new experiences, breaking from and rejuvenating the series as a whole.
All in all, there is a bunch of new features that greatly enhance the gameplay experience of Pokémon, but both SUN AND MOON retain enough of the original series’ DNA to make sure that they don’t feel utterly removed to players who’ve been ‘catching them all’ since 1996.
And while I dive into MOON’s post game—I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.